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Christie out to nail Highlanders co-captain's role

A dollop of real-life experience is often missing in professional sport.

But Shane Christie's battle to make the grade as a professional rugby player is just one of the reasons he has been handed the co-captaincy for the Highlanders' Super rugby campaign next year.

The qualified builder, who debuted for the Highlanders in 2014, has been named co-captain with All Black Ben Smith, replacing Nasi Manu, who left for Scotland at the end of last season.

It is quite a climb for Christie (30), who was a loan player to Buller in 2009 before making his debut for Tasman in 2010.

He was made Tasman captain in 2013 - a role in which he has thrived, leading the side to the Championship title in 2013 and the final of the Premiership in 2014.

''It's been an awesome experience - pretty challenging, but I've enjoyed it,'' Christie said.

''I'm looking forward to taking on the role with the Highlanders this year. It's a pretty easy team to lead; we've got a lot of experience now.''

Christie does not expect he will need to be too vocal in his role, as the Highlanders' experience banks are starting to fill up across the squad.

''We've got quite a few captains from provincial teams so everyone will do their role and help out as much as they can.''

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph said continuing the co-captains policy made perfect sense, especially with the late return of Smith from his enforced All Black break.

''Co-captains has worked well for us and Shane is a natural fit for our team,'' Joseph said.

''I think you'll find more teams will be doing [co-captaincies] because it's very hard on the whole group for the leadership to be sustained [by one person] for seven or eight months.

''The other thing is if you have an All Black as a captain, they're not here for pre-season and you can't be leaderless during an integral part of the build-up.''

Christie balanced work and rugby in his early 20s, working in the building trade, and Joseph appreciates the efforts Christie has made to become a full-time rugby player.

''He hasn't come out of a rugby system as a 17-year-old and come through the academy system - he's had to work for this,'' Joseph said.

''It's hard to make a buck banging in nails. He appreciates his position and that rubs off on the players well.''

Christie has accumulated only 19 caps for the Highlanders since 2013, enduring a very frustrating season last year due to a chronic hamstring complaint.

''Last year was the pits, but it's out of my mind and I don't want to worry about that any more.''

Christie returned in time to come off the bench in the semifinal against the Waratahs and performed the same role in the final against the Hurricanes, coming on at halftime to help his side to the Super rugby title, a measure of the esteem in which Joseph holds him.

''Off the field, tactically he is very astute and does a lot of work and encouragement around helping other players, both new and experienced.''